The Guardian reviews "Years of Refusal"

I am a Ghost

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Pile of toss review, in my opinion...

Friday 13 February 2009

Morrissey: Years of Refusal

(Decca)
3 out of 5

The last time we encountered Morrissey - on record at least - he was indulging in the most unMorrissey-like of activities: getting his leg over in Rome. Song after song on 2006's Ringleader of the Tormentors detailed his supposedly newfound discovery of the pleasures of the flesh: "I entered nothing and nothing entered me, 'til you came." If it wasn't exactly Eazy-E's Nutz On Ya Chin, it was still remarkably ribald stuff from rock's most celebrated celibate.

You didn't have to be interested in the state of Morrissey's sex life to feel relieved. Here was progress - something new in an outlook that has remained unchanged over the years, unless you count the mid-90s addition of the entire legal profession to Morrissey's chart of People Who Are Ranged in a Terrible and Sadistic Conspiracy Against Me. It certainly appeared to breathe fresh life into Morrissey's music: his solo career has come up with few moments as transcendentally lovely as the gentle, post-coital coda of Dear God Please Help Me.

But events settled into a well-worn groove following Ringleader of the Tormentors' release: another pointless compilation album, another round of controversy about his views on immigration, another visit to the law courts. And now, there's Years of Refusal, on which normal service is resumed. Love never comes or doesn't exist; depression and suicide get a song each; the legal profession cops it in the neck yet again. Among the album's cast of villains - all of whom, it goes without saying, are ranged in a terrible and sadistic conspiracy against Morrissey - there lurks "a QC full of fake humility".

The deftness and subtlety of its predecessor's sound has been stamped out. Morrissey's backing band, hardly renowned for their lightness of touch at the best of times, seem more stodgy and leaden than ever: the bass is distorted, the drums thud grimly along at mid-tempo, and Ringleader of the Tormentors' beautiful orchestrations have been elbowed out. As with a lot of Morrissey's latter-day solo material, its target market appears to be people who heard the Smiths and thought: if only this stuff was less beautifully nuanced and original, a bit more ungainly and predictable, then we'd really be getting somewhere.

Occasionally, you get the impression they are doing it deliberately. There's an aggressive defiance about the flamenco-ish intro to When I Last Spoke to Carol, which sounds exactly like the intro to Bigmouth Strikes Again played by Manuel from Fawlty Towers. And you surely don't arrive at something as ugly as Sorry Doesn't Help - its lumbering gait embellished with a needling, staccato electric piano line - by mistake.

At least the sound fits the lyrics, which are so horribly sour you could make cottage cheese by leaving a pint of milk next to the speakers while it's playing. Morrissey has been petulant and nasty before, but there was usually a mitigating hint of arched eyebrow, or a flash of wit. Here, there's nothing but vituperative clumsiness: "You lied about the lies you told, which is the full extent of what being you is all about."

Indeed, great lines are surprisingly thin on the ground. It's not so much that you've heard what he has to say on Black Cloud or That's How People Grow Up before; it's more that you've heard him say it better. There's a compelling argument that Morrissey keeps attracting new, young fans because his apparently immutable worldview, in which it's always someone else's fault and everything is so unfair, chimes with their own adolescent experience. But it's difficult to hear him singing, "There's so much destruction all over the world and all you can do is complain about me," without thinking: is this any way for a man who's nearly 50 to be carrying on? Clearly, this thought has crossed Morrissey's mind as well. "I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out," he sings elsewhere. "Thank you. Drop dead."

The latter line comes from Something Is Squeezing My Skull, which is among a handful of moments that makes Years of Refusal more disappointment than disaster. The melody of I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris soars despite the ungainly backing. You Were Good in Your Time is evidence of how tremendous Morrissey can still be: a farewell from fan to dying star that suddenly snaps to a halt, leaving two minutes of chillingly abstract noise in its wake, it's heartbreakingly tender and unpredictable. That you can't apply those adjectives to much else here is Years of Refusal's biggest downfall.
 
That bit about the intro to 'Carol' being like Bigmouth played by Manuel is verging on racism. But maybe that's just me.

Peter
 
There's an aggressive defiance about the flamenco-ish intro to When I Last Spoke to Carol, which sounds exactly like the intro to Bigmouth Strikes Again played by Manuel from Fawlty Towers..

Great line there, and very true.

This review is so negative one wonders what the 3 stars are for!?
This reads like a one-star review...
 
Indeed, great lines are surprisingly thin on the ground. It's not so much that you've heard what he has to say on Black Cloud or That's How People Grow Up before; it's more that you've heard him say it better.

This is really the jist of it for me.

I was very enthusiastic about the album upon the first week of listening. Over time it hasn't gained anything, but has lost what I initially felt.

What is always obnoxious is that there is always a mention of how this wasn't as good as The Smiths. Sadly, that is where critics are discredited in my eyes. Let Morrissey's solo work stand alone.

Despite that little slip up, I don't entirely disagree with the review.
 
Indeed, great lines are surprisingly thin on the ground. It's not so much that you've heard what he has to say on Black Cloud or That's How People Grow Up before; it's more that you've heard him say it better.

I think it's a decent album, but I really can't argue with that.
 
Any review of Years of Refusal that continually emphasizes "Sorry Doesn't Help" in order to make a statement about the album as a whole is frankly not worth reading. This is an utterly unbalanced review.
 
I saw this earlier and what I found weird about it is no journalist has put their name to it. Which is very unusual for The Guardian. I have my suspicions about who wrote it.
 
Perfect. I don't like Morrissey getting good reviews. It's unnatural. It's good reviews that make it harder to get tickets. Role on mean sayers. Keep the fluff away.
 
That bit about the intro to 'Carol' being like Bigmouth played by Manuel is verging on racism. But maybe that's just me.

Peter

No it's not you. As i said before, I suspected they were not going to give YOR a fair review... they didn't and also forgot to sign the piece, in the process...
Anyway - 3/5 was the least they could give the album without loosing some credibility - but in fact, once you read it you realise any credibility they might have is gone- this does not compare to the 3/5 of mojo or Q - this sounds like a reviwer who is horribly sour, and despairing over the fact that can't really give it a 1 star review and that YOR is actually pretty good.

When The Guardian comes to this... it's sad times indeed :(
 
The Guardian are obsessed with identity politics, any whiff of the R word and you are a pariah in their books. During the London elections every day they had blogs portraying Boris Johnson as an evil racist. I don't like the man but the charges they kept trying to pin on him were so unfair that when he won I was almost pleased.

Morrissey was never going to get a fair hearing and I agree it reads like a one star review, but what can you expect when Tim Jonze is editor there?
 
Well lets face it, YOR is no masterpiece, and it is lacking in some areas. However, this review is just unjustified. I'm surprised they even gave it a 3, when they make it sound like total shit. It sounds more like a personal attack on Morrissey the person, than on Morrissey the band.
 
Well lets face it, YOR is no masterpiece, and it is lacking in some areas. However, this review is just unjustified. I'm surprised they even gave it a 3, when they make it sound like total shit. It sounds more like a personal attack on Morrissey the person, than on Morrissey the band.

they gave it 3 because it was the lowest grade YOR got anywhere else and they didn't want to look foolish and yet, they did just that. It IS a PERSONAL ATTACK on Morrissey. I used to really like The Guardian's music section - this is just sad and pathetic :(
 
Well lets face it, YOR is no masterpiece, and it is lacking in some areas. However, this review is just unjustified. I'm surprised they even gave it a 3, when they make it sound like total shit. It sounds more like a personal attack on Morrissey the person, than on Morrissey the band.

I don't think British reviewers can get beyond their feelings about Morrissey sadly. You will get very few mainstream reviews (probably none) of this record that actually talk about the record.
 
I think a lot of Morrissey album reviews are already written before the journalist has even listened to the album. They seem to pick key phrases, like the souring of the milk, and just rearrange them in a way that might resemble a review. As Sir John Betjeman once said "journalism, full of hate".
 
I think it's a pretty fair review, although it's a bit more negative than I would be. (I'm surprised they didn't mention "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore" which is an excellent song. Give him credit for that one!) But the main themes of the review I completely agree with: 1) The music is bland and uninspiring. 2) The lyrics are often quite lazy. There are still flashes of vocal or lyrical genius in almost every song (excepting "That's How People Grow Up" which has ZERO redeeming qualities), but a lack of consistency here.
 
The fact that the writer is the same person who gave Ringleader 5 stars and had no problem with Morrissey personally in that review suggests that this is a editorial decision to attack him, based on politics more than anything else.
 
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